Report – Weather Extremes in Italy Affected Over 100 Municipalities Since 2010

The Italian environmentalist association Legambiente, in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Environment and Protection of Natural Resources, recently published a report on climate change impacts and adaptation policies in Italian cities, “Italian cities facing climate challenge” (PDF)

Main objective of the report is the creation of a Climate Risk Map, through the collection and geo-localisation of damages and impacts caused by extreme meteorological events occurring in Italy from 2010 to 2015. The map gives an understanding of the current exposure to extreme climate-related events at the municipality level, linking and integrating frequency, magnitude and impact.

Map of areas in Italy affected by extreme weather events between 2010 and 2015. Image: Legambiente
Map of areas in Italy affected by extreme weather events between 2010 and 2015. Image: Legambiente

Floods in Italy

According to a recent study of the European Environment Agency, Italy is one of the European countries most at risk from floods, and has the largest population living in flood-prone areas.

The 81.2% of Italian Municipalities face risks of landslides and floods, and up to 6 million people live in areas of high risk.

The Legambiente report says that since 2010, 140 people have died as a result of flooding in the country. There have been 204 extreme weather events, including floods and landslides, that have affected 101 municipalities across Italy in the last 5 years. More than 32,000 people have been evacuated as a result.

Impact on Cities

According to the 2014 Government Framework on the “National Strategy on Climate Change Adaption”, urban settlements represent 90% of the Italian population. This urban population is the main victim of climate change in the country.

Major cities, like Rome, Milan and Genoa, have been affected by recurrent flooding over the last few years, with Genoa suffering the worst. Between 2011 and 2014, as many as 4 extreme floods affected the Ligurian regional capital causing relevant damages and loss in human lives.

The Tyrrhenian coast seems to be the most affected by hydro-meteorological extreme events in recent years, with flooding and damage also seen in Amalfi Coast (2010), Olbia (2013), Messina (2009 and 2015), Liguria (2011 and 2014) and Tuscany (2012 and 2014).

A major consequence of floods and heavy rains in Italy is the damage caused to the country’s archaeological heritage, a major cultural and economical asset. Significant damages have been observed in Genoa, Rome, Livorno and in Sibari and Metaponto, 2 main Magna Graecia sites.

Extreme meteorological events affecting urban environments also caused significant damages to infrastructures. Since 2010, as many as 90 priority infrastructures (roads, bridges and transportation) have been damaged. Italy’s major cities a total of 50 operating days for subways and urban trains have been lost as a result of extreme weather: 24 days in Rome, 10 in Milan, 7 in Naples, 6 in Genoa and 3 in Turin.

The report also say that 43 days of electricity blackouts throughout Italy were caused by heavy rain or snow from 2010 to the start of 2015.

Floods Genoa
Cars floating along the flooded streets of Genoa in 2011. Photo: Oggi Scienza / Flickr

Adapting to Change

The objective of the Legambiente report is to highlight the need for Municipal Climate Change Adaption Plans, which are plans at the city level where areas at major risk are identified and preventative actions taken to ensure citizen safety.

Facing climate change is difficult, as magnitude and direction of future events are difficult to predict, but it is only a component of the risk equation. Other anthropogenic changes, such as land use or water use change, have a significant and direct impact on the population at risk, especially in urban environments. Moreover, while actions (and responsibilities) against climate change are global and time-demanding, effective and immediate actions can be taken at the local scale, to understand and prevent other anthropic induced changes and reduce exposure and vulnerability. With a local focus, clear roles and responsibilities can be defined, both for the public administrator and the citizen.

Working on a limited number of records and observations, we may not have enough statistical bases to assert whether an extreme event is a direct effect of climate change or not. Nevertheless, global climate change is scientifically proven and is a matter of fact that frequency of high-magnitude events seems to be increasing in Italy as shown by the Legambiente report, with cases where almost the average yearly rainfall total has fallen in just a few hours.

On the other hand, we must keep in mind that damages, impacts and human losses in cities are mainly due to the extraordinary level of exposure to hydro-meteorological risks reached with unplanned urbanisation and inappropriate structural and non-structural actions of prevention. The catastrophic effects reported in Genoa in 2011 and 2014 were mainly caused by the manmade obstruction and coverage of the Ferreggiano and Bisagno Rivers. The Olbia floods in Sardinia produced significant damages in new neighbourhoods constructed in areas known to be at high risk of inundation.